$8.8 MILLION AWARD IN AUTO FATALITY - SECOND-LARGEST IN COUNTY HISTORY
TIMES LEADER - WILKES-BARRE, PA
By BILL SCHACKNER
WILKES-BARRE - A 12-member Luzerne County jury Friday night awarded nearly $8.8 million in the case of a former state trooper who was struck and disabled by a drunken driver in 1983.
The award is the second largest in the county's history and may be the largest of its kind ever in Pennsylvania, according to a court official close to the case.
The verdict included $5 million in punitive damages against the management and parent company of the hotel where James Eshbach was drinking the night he hit Michael Barbuti, 36.
The verdict will have "a tremendous effect" on establishments that serve visibly intoxicated people, predicted Judge Arthur Dalessandro, who presided over the weeklong trial.
The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated for three hours before returning to a trial room in the Luzerne County Courthouse shortly after 8:00 p.m.
The award also included $200,500 for Barbuti's wife, Barbara, who was also a plaintiff in the case.
"We're obviously thrilled and very satisfied," commented Joseph Quinn, one of the attorneys who represented the plaintiffs.
Attorneys representing the driver, his employer and the hotel's management could not be reached for comment Friday night.
Jury members found Eshbach to be 30 percent liable. They assigned 70 percent of the liability to Pocono Hershey Resort Hotel and Herco Inc., the parent company of the White Haven hotel where Eshbach was drinking the night of the accident.
Exact figures included in the award were not available at press time, but Dalessandro said the jury ordered about $3,334,000 in compensatory damages be paid by Eshbach, and his employer at the time of the Aug. 19, 1983 accident, Eshbach Brothers Inc. of Reading, and the hotel's ownership.
In addition, Dalessandro awarded $200,500 and $15,000 delayed damages respectively to the trooper and his wife.
Quinn also represented Linda Ann Cappellini, a former West Wyoming resident who was awarded $12.6 million last December in a suit over injuries she received in a 1982 automobile accident. That verdict was described as the county's largest.
Barbuti was an officer with the Hazleton Interstate State police at the time the accident occurred. He had stopped a car on Interstate 80 near Butler Township and was walking toward the vehicle when Eshbach's car struck him, according to court documents.
Due to the accident, Barbuti said he has suffered severe medical injuries, such as limited use of his left leg. He also claims he has incurred mental and emotional distress due to the accident.